By Poppy Tohill
Date / Venue: Tuesday June 24th, Town Hall, Auckland
Fifty years ago tonight, the phenomenon that was The Beatles took to the stage at Auckland's Town Hall to perform a 22-minute set to a venue full of screaming (predominantly female) fans. Fifty years later in 2014 on that exact same night, Auckland's Town Hall once again filled up with excited fans (this time with a good mixture of both females and males with not so many screaming teenagers) who took to their seats looking forward to hearing the popular, iconic tunes of The Beatles, this time performed by a range of New Zealand's finest musicians (Don McGlashan, Fiona McDonald, Jed Town, Mike Chunn, Tim Finn & more) who were also joined on stage by a new, younger generation of Beatles fans with students from schools all around the Northland area, ranging from Sacred Heart College, Kaipara College, Auckland Grammar and many more.
The ‘Strange Days Night' concert, which was organised and put on by the Play It Strange Foundation was far from a strange day, or night for that fact, proving a fantastic memorable night that exquisitely marked the historical moment and legacy of the Beatles performing in New Zealand in the year of 1964.
Although I wasn't even a speck of dust in the universe by 1964, sitting watching the screens which flashed with footage and images showing what Auckland life was like at that time, it perfectly set the historical mood of remembrance throughout the room as young and old audience members laughed at the fun facts of the sixties which also flashed across the screens.
As the lights soon dimmed, Sacred Heart College Senior Choir took to the stage, filling the space with not only their presence but also their voices, as they kicked the night off with a fantastically energetic rendition of ‘She Loves You.' Establishing the perfect high spirited atmosphere throughout the room, the choir went on to perform another great version of the popular Beatles tune, ‘Yesterday,' with the soloists showcasing their exceptional voices along with the rest of the choir, whose talent blew the entire audience away.
Shortening their name to The Toes (because they thought Camel Toes may have been a bit inappropriate), the band's front man dished out some humour to the audience, admitting that, "We have no talent, but thought it was time to form a rock band. So just think of us as the entertainment for the night." Continuing on saying, "We're going to go ahead and play what I believe is the last song The Beatles ever recorded, which is good for us because it might mean you don't know it," he laughed before changing roles from comedian to musician, ending their two song performance with the hit ‘Hey Jude' which had the audience waving their hands in the air and enthusiastically singing along.
Between each act as the stage was being reassembled, short recorded messages from well known figures throughout New Zealand such as Jordan Luck, Eddie Rayner, Harry Lyon, Keith Quinn, Te Radar, Peter Urlich and many others played, sharing funny stories with the audience from their childhood as Beatles' fans and what the band to them. Along with these insightful comments and the fill in banter from MC and Play It Strange CEO, Mike Chunn, numerous laughs were provided throughout the night, continuing with the relaxed and feel good atmosphere which remained throughout the entire night and shows' proceedings.
Grace Brebner was up next performing a magnificent version of ‘Taxman' before continuing on with an absolutely stunning, stripped back rendition of ‘Let It Be' as her striking and powerful vocals backed quietly with a touch of keys echoed throughout the entire venue leaving everyone with goosebumps, as she received an enormous deal of applause from the amazed audience as she left the stage. Definitely proving one of the favourite performances of the night for many.
The Waves then took on ‘We Can Work It Out' and ‘Norwegian Wood' adding a touch of mandolin to their superb interpretation of the song. Soon followed by Fletcher Mills who took to the keyboard, joined by a violinist, performing an impressive, stripped back version of ‘For No One.'
Considerably turning up the energy and volume was Jed Town with their rockified translation of ‘If I Needed Someone' and ‘Ticket To Ride.' Adding to the energy that already filled the room, Kaipara College owned the stage with a beautiful version of ‘Strawberry Fields' which they then merged together, changing over band members and singers without stopping, launching into an upbeat and incredibly exceptional performance of‘Helter Skelter,' sung by two girls, blowing the audience away with their energy as they danced and waved their hair all over the stage, while the lead guitarist took the impressive solo all in his stride, heightening the already energetic atmosphere throughout the entire room.
Mike Chunn, temporarily stepping aside from his role as MC to perform with students from numerous Auckland schools, took on and completely nailed ‘You Can't Get Me,' also performing an exceptional rendition of ‘Day Tripper' where five guitarists and vocalists fronted the stage, just incase four wasn't enough.
The Backbeats proved another crowd favourite as they delightfully took on ‘Here Comes The Sun' and ‘Can You Take Me Back,' which the entire audience joined in enthusiastically clapping along to.
Definitely giving the song the justice it deserved, Graham Brazier and Harry Lyon were next on the stage performing an exquisite version of favourites, ‘In My Life,' and ‘Drive My Car,' adorned with the cowbell which Brazier along with singing proved exceptionally enthusiastic about.
Nearing closer to the end of the night, an audience member had lent their Beatles scrapbook to Mike Chunn. So adding to the historical sentiment of the night, Chunn went ahead and read the review from the NZ Herald of the Beatles show, that same night, fifty years earlier. Providing a great deal of laughs, it was obvious Chunn was enjoying every minute of it, cracking up with laughter as he read on.
Before long it was time for the music to begin again, with Fiona McDonald taking to the stage with a mixture of girls from both Western Springs College and Diocesan School who backed her on violin, cello, vocals and the snare drums. First off performing an exquisite version of ‘Why Don't We Do It In The Road,' McDonald's stunning vocals filled the entire room, as she beautifully wove the lyrics around the instrumentation from the students. With some rearrangement as the girls departed the stage, an intimate setting between McDonald and another young woman she introduced as Molly took the spotlight on the stage. McDonald armed with a ukulele and Molly with a guitar, her banter and interaction with the audience strangely put you at ease, as they began their own stunning rendition of ‘Oh Darling.' Despite a minute mix up which recalled for a restart, they each dealt with it professionally, and somewhat humourously, not phasing the audience at all, as they restarted and delivered what was one of the most intimate and striking performances of the entire night.
Next to take the spotlight was Don McGlashan, who as always not only delivered excellently musically, but also as a great source of entertainment for the crowd, as he filled the room with witty comments and laughter before rocking the stage with his cover of ‘Ill Follow The Sun,' and ‘Somebody To Love' where he was joined by three talented children aged 10, 11 and 13 who along with McGlashan looked like they were having the absolute time of their lives.
Of course, finally and last but not least, Tim Finn took to the stage with his equally as talented children Elliot (showing her skills on bass) and Harper (drums) to draw the night to an end. Also joined by Brett Adams ofThe Bads on guitar, they went on to perform an exceptional rendition of ‘I'm Only Sleeping.' With Elliot taking to the microphone for the next song, and Harper changing to the keys, the crowd were blown as they went on to magnificently perform "You're Gonna Lose That Girl.'
As Mr Chunn took to the stage for the last of his MC duties of the night, he humorously admitted to the audience that, "We're going to have an encore, but the thing is you don't need to even ask for it, we're just going to give it to you," he laughed.
On that note, the popular Backbeats band took to the stage one last time joined by some members of the Kings School Jazz band, whose smiles were as big as the trumpets they held. Drawing the night to an end with an energetic performance of ‘Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' which saw a number of the previous performers from that night taking to the stage one last time for an ultimate celebratory boogie as the entire audience rose from their seats and joined in on the fun, clapping and dancing along also. Ending the night in no greater way possible than the highest of highs.
Wednesday 25th June the Auckland Town Hall will host one more celebratory tribute to the event that was the historic year of 1964 when The Beatles performed in New Zealand. The legacy the band left behind will forever remain, whether old or young, and to the new generation of Beatles fans that had the opportunity of performing on the very same stage as Lennon, McCartney, Starr & Harrison had once done fifty years ago, it was not only an honour to witness this, but also to observes just how influential The Beatles have been and no doubt always will be on our musical culture.